New Covid rule: Cleaner can leave without penalty if they feel at risk
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New Covid rule: Cleaner can leave without penalty if they feel at risk

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Hidden among all the provisions for opening terraces, enlarged bubbles and all the rest, the Consultative Committee on Friday made another decision that should make a difference to a group of people working in often precarious environments – home helpers.

The new rule states that a home help – a cleaning lady, for example – may quit a job for a client if she feels at risk because of the working conditions – for instance, if the household is not respecting social distancing.

What makes the new rule important is that it states that the home help can leave the risky situation without loss of pay.

However, there is one important proviso and one major objection.

The home help may only leave after having obtained the agreement of their own employer, most usually the service cheques agency they work for. Cleaners who work in the black, without the protections of service cheques and cash-in-hand, enjoy no such protection.

One cleaner told RTBF news: “I once had a client who came back from a trip and had not yet been tested when I came to work. Another client had her baby who was in quarantine at home because there had been cases in her nursery,” she said.

Because of teleworking, and sometimes the closure of schools, we sometimes find ourselves with a lot of people at home. I’ve found myself in a room with eight people, three adults and five teenagers!”

For employees, the need for employer approval might mean some resistance to their evaluation of the safety of the home situation.

We are all alone on the ground, and the people in charge of the agency are not there. I don’t think I would dare stop working. All I can do is protect myself as much as possible, and there you go.”

Some agencies already apply the measure as a precaution, but others are worried that the obligation to pay the employee without being paid by the client does not come with some support measures, a fact confirmed by federal labour minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne.

If there is no budget, it drains the measure of its content,” said Gaëtan Stass of the CSC trade union which represents the sector. “There is a risk of agencies putting pressure on the workers to work anyway.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times